Part V: More about COPD and Oxygen Therapy

Not everyone with COPD needs oxygen therapy. Before it’s prescribed, your doctor will measure the amount of oxygen in your blood via a device called a pulse oximeter and/or an arterial blood gas (ABG) study. You may need oxygen if any of the following apply:

  • Your PaO2 (the oxygen level in your blood), as measured by ABGs, is less than or equal to 55 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
  • Your oxygen saturation level, as measured by pulse oximetry, is less than or equal to 88% at rest.
  • Your PaO2 is between 56 mm Hg and 59 mm Hg, or your oxygen saturation is 89%, and you have a history of cor pulmonale (right-sided heart failure), heart failure or erythrocytosis (increased number of red blood cells).
  • Your oxygen saturation level, as measured by pulse oximetry, is greater than 88% at rest, but drops below 88% during sleep or exercise.

If the oxygen in your blood is lower than it should be, your doctor will prescribe supplemental oxygen. Your doctor will regulate your oxygen dose (in liters per minute) and how many hours per day you should use it. Because individual oxygen needs vary, you may only need supplemental oxygen when you sleep or exercise, or you may need it continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Oxygen Delivery Methods

Oxygen can be delivered through an oxygen concentrator, an oxygen-gas cylinder, or a liquid oxygen system. Which you choose depends upon your individual needs and your doctor’s recommendation.

Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

Long-term oxygen therapy – oxygen used for 15 hours or more per day – has many benefits. Not only does it increase survival in some COPD patients, but it eases COPD symptoms, helps prevent heart failure and other COPD complications, improves quality of life, increases your ability to exercise, and improves your social life. It may even enhance your sex life!

Oxygen Safety

Oxygen is considered a drug and requires a prescription from your doctor. Use your oxygen prescription exactly as prescribed. Don’t ever use someone else’s oxygen, increase your oxygen dose, or discontinue oxygen therapy without first talking to your doctor. In addition, keep in mind the following safety tips when oxygen is in use:

    • Turn your oxygen valve to the off position when not in use.
    • Avoid using oxygen around any open flame source, including matches, cigarette lighters, burning tobacco, and candles. Don’t smoke or let anyone smoke around your oxygen.
    • In addition, keep oxygen away from all open heat sources, including gas stoves or heaters, lit fireplaces or wood burning stoves.
    • Avoid using personal care products containing petroleum.
    • Store oxygen cylinders safely and securely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Avoid shaving with an electric razor while using oxygen. It may initiate a spark.

Oxygen and Air Travel

If you normally use supplemental oxygen, your oxygen requirements may increase when you travel by airplane. In addition, because the level of oxygen in an airplane at cruising level is equal to that of an elevation of approximately 8,000 feet (2438 meters), some people with COPD who normally don’t require supplemental oxygen may need it during in-flight travel. Before you arrange a trip by airplane, be sure to discuss your plans with your doctor.